Yuval Levin’s election postmortem reduced the Democratic party to “an incoherent amalgam of interest groups,” in contrast to the Republican party, which is “much more of a real party,” that is, one that’s devoted to the “good of the whole.”
The Romney campaign, however, did not appear to me to be above micropandering.
One of its targets in this regard was the coal industry, which Romney eagerly stoked with rhetoric about Obama’s “war on coal” and a “job-killing” Environmental Protection Agency run amok. It was an acrobatic flip-flop even for Romney, who, as governor of Massachusetts, held a press conference in front of a coal-fired power plant in Salem, Mass., and declared, “That plant kills people.” This, in addition to embracing (if only temporarily) the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a plan to combat climate change involving nine northeastern states.
I wrote a post in September recalling my personal acquaintance with coal, and my family’s dependence on it. I have tremendous sympathy for miners who feel like their livelihoods are being assaulted by nameless bureaucrats. That the coal industry has been more strenuously regulated by the Obama administration isn’t simply a myth perpetrated by shadowy energy titans whose last name rhymes with “Coke.”
Yet it’s becoming increasingly clear to me, middle-class child of coal, that coal’s biggest enemy isn’t government, but rather markets, disruptive technology, and a quest for greater energy efficiency.
Steven Mufson of the Washington Post has a great long-form story that tells the tale. That plant that Romney accused of killing people? It’s slated to be torn down in 2014 — and replaced by a natural-gas-fired unit:
“When we were first looking at the overall project, it really was a toss-up as to whether it would be more the environmental rules or the gas price that was going to drive coal plants to shut down,” said [power company executive Peter] Furniss, 45. “It now is very clearly the gas price.”
Salem Harbor is a case study of how the shale gas revolution is overthrowing assumptions about energy by undercutting coal prices and usurping it as the nation’s fuel of choice for electric power generation.
Across the country, utilities are switching from coal to cheap natural gas. In April, for the first time, natural gas pulled even with coal as a fuel source for power plants. Through August, the use of coal to generate electric power had tumbled 17 percent while the use of natural gas jumped 27 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration.
As of July, companies had announced plans to close down 30 gigawatts of coal-fired plants, or about 10 percent of the nation’s total coal plant capacity, by 2016, according to a study by the Brattle Group, a consulting firm. These aren’t models of efficiency; the EIA says that the average coal-fired generator to be retired this year is 56 years old.
Overall, this transition might cause the loss of jobs in some coal mines, but it is also creating jobs in areas rich in shale gas. Moreover, the gas glut is cutting utility bills for households and businesses, giving a much-needed boost to the lackluster economy. …
Natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal does in a power plant. In the first quarter of 2012, carbon dioxide emissions from coal burning fell to the lowest level for any quarter since 1986, according to the EIA.
Overall, U.S. greenhouse emissions fell to their lowest level in 20 years, though warm weather last winter and lower gasoline consumption also played roles. Still, the United States is roughly on track to meet the reduction in greenhouse gases that President Obama has pledged to hit by 2020.
In his heart, I suspect Mitt Romney knows all this. But he was trying to win an election, for pete’s sake.
To mortgage your political soul like that and still come up short — that’s got to leave a mark.